It's almost September already?!

I’ve never been good with deadlines. More often than not, I get blindsided. This time, with the final gift of the One Skein exchange to be a knitted item from a skein of yarn, I tried to stave off the usual last minute franticness by planning ahead. I decided on the project for my downstream pal (I’m still tickled to see the word downstream used outside of the context of genetic networks and transcriptional regulation) way back in July, duly bought the yarn the beginning of August, and cast on a good two weeks ago. Fast-forward 14-odd days and what was I doing? Frantically knitting. Thankfully, my pal didn’t take offense when I told her that her gift would be a few days late. So, this flower washcloth will be going out in the mail tomorrow along with a bar of my favorite sheep-shaped soap. If all goes well at the post office end, it will only be a day or so late. Sigh. Sorry Pal!

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Pattern: Reverse Bloom Flower Washcloth
Source: Weekend Knitting by Melanie Falick
Yarn: Cottage Knits 100% Cotton Chenille (which I like better than the Crystal Palace chenille as it feels plushier)
Needles: Size 6/4mm dpns


I can almost smell the sea

I’ve always been terribly intrigued by cables in knitting. Even though most of the elaborately cabled arans that I have seen resemble the silhouettes of flying squirrels (absolutely adorable on the squirrels but not so much on the human frame), the sight of all that beautiful cable-work still manages to set my heart racing and my hands itching. There’s something so wonderfully substantial and magical about a cable. A few minor alterations in stitch position and out pop an intricate, three-dimensional pattern. How much more amazing could it get? As I followed the Yarn Harlot’s adventures in guernsey-knitting, I bought Gladys Thompson’s book on a whim to learn more about the history of those cable patterns I love so much.

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After poring over the book for the past few days, I can effuse endlessly about how terrific it is. Written in the middle of the last century (thank goodness for Dover Publications), the book is a collection of traditional guernsey sweater and stitch patterns, all diligently tracked down by the author in her treks to fishing villages all over Britain.

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Her enthusiasm for the subject is readily apparently and quite infectious. How could one resist the delight in her words as she describes the process of hunting for patterns:
“Guernsey hunting becomes rather an obsession, but the search for them is fun – memorizing them off the fisherman’s back or front, (back if he’s baiting lines, painting boats or other engrossing jobs which entail a bending position!) Front, if he’ll talk!
Fortunately, most of the patterns are repetitions, and if a section is memorized, the rest can be worked out on an old envelope round the corner – often the man wanders away before you have taken it all in, then he has to be chased down the sea wall, or harbour, to verify and make certain.”

Interspersed among the useful stitch patterns from those guernsey hunts are historical details about the fishing villages as well as anecdotes about the knitters and guernsey wearers that Ms. Thompson encountered along the way.

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These tidbits of historical context create a wonderful window into that time not so very long ago when knitting was much more than a relaxing hobby. Guernseys had a practical function in keeping fishermen at sea relatively warm and dry. With their close-fitting design, stitch patterns distinctive to village and family, and initials of the owner stitched into the lower sweater body, guernseys also served the darker purpose of allowing for the identification of drowned fishermen. In a time when knitting is more of a fun indulgence than a necessity of life, it’s good to be reminded that it is at its heart, a practical craft. It’s also good to be reminded how lucky we are to be able to knit as an indulgence.
In the face of all that wonderful knitting history and stitch patterns, I was quite inspired to sit down right then and there to design my own guernsey until I realized the little glitch in my impulse. While several sweater patterns are provided in the book, all of the directions are very abbreviated with no diagrams. Certainly decipherable, especially if one is familiar with sweater construction, but a bit of a challenge. So, with my rather limited sweater-making skills as of now, I don’t think I will be attempting a guernsey just yet...maybe in a year or two...


More autumnal crafting

The autumn bug bit again, this time in collusion with one of the quilting variety. So, instead of being propelled to knit a partner for my orange lace glove, I suffered a brief spate of sewing fever. When that passed, there was pincushion number eight: a square pieced from irregular rectangles à la Denise Schmidt and quilted to batting at the joins and the leaves (though you can hardly tell once it’s stuffed).

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I knew my hoard of fabric scraps would come in handy someday.

(Yes, I really am up to the eighth pincushion. Still addicted...)


A little color therapy

I feel like the words “color therapy” have been bandied about everywhere recently. From the New York Times to Domino, everyone suddenly seems to be touting the cure-all ability of color. Feeling anxious? Duck into the nearest pink/lavender/pale blue room. Want to bump up the excitement quotient? Paint your living room red! I’ve been a little skeptical and just a tad scornful of the claimed blanket cure but today, after a long day that cumulated in negative progress, a few little splashes of color

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in unexpected places

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did go a long way towards making me feel human again. (The long hot shower in the blue ensconced space helped too.)


Belated public expressions of gratitude…

...to my secret pals.
Thanks to my Secret Pal of the One Skein Exchange for this fun skein full of pretty colors.

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And thanks to my Secret Pal of the SP8 exchange for all these goodies... teas, handy tissues, a nifty expanding hand towel, Brittany cable needles, cute little note-pads, cedar balls, hair clips, a pretty ornament of my initial, and a photo-stand that I’ve already put to use (thus forgetting to include it in this photo).

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Here’s a close-up of the wonderful yarn, Classic Elite in a cheery Spring green and Elann Peruvian Highland in a calm deep green-brown. Perhaps a two-color scarf is in order?

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Thank you, secret pals!


Moment of shock and horror

That's what I experienced yesterday when I opened my blog to find the only things appearing were my title bar and part of my last post. No side bar links, no cute work in progress bars, no history of posts. Everything was gone. I think the initial shock took a few years off my life. After sitting awhile dumb and stunned while my mind did the equivalent of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I steeled myself for the worse and logged in to Blogger. Fortunately, everything at that end looked perfectly normal. The template looked fine, the settings were normal, and my posts stilled arrayed the postings page. Everything was as it should be, except that none of it was showing up on the actual blog. After fretting over this disconnect all the day and hoping that Blogger would somehow magically fix the error, it finally occurred to me to try just republished the template. So I did and all is back to normal. Now I can finally show you this:

my very first glove!

The finger-tips are a bit wonky from my rather imperfectly spaced decreases but I'm still quite enamored with this piece of knitting. For once, I have a glove that actually fits, err, like a glove. With a pretty lace pattern to boot. Wearing just one glove makes me feel quite elegant, even as I sit here in my well-worn pajamas with a knitting needle tucked behind my ear. That, or I'm just a bit too delirous from the relief of "recovering" my blog.
There was another unexpected bonus to the glove as well. One glove only took somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of a skein and left all of this:

Since I bought three skeins for a pair, perhaps there is a lacey orange-edged scarf in my future?


Comfort knitting

There are starting to be hints of the forthcoming fall season everywhere. Dahlias are in bloom, advertising with a "back-to-school" theme is becoming ubiquitous, racks of warm coats are pushing out the swim suits in department stores, and a new crop of knitting magazines are sprouting up everywhere in blogland. Normally I give seasons nary a thought, given the perpetually temperate climate here, but in the face of all those oh-so-tempting cozy yet smart sweaters filling the new magazines, I’ve been finding myself yearning for autumnal days. Never mind that it has been about as cold right now as it ever gets during the fall months. Never mind that the imaginary period in my mind of wood smoke tinged crisp days filled with fluttering orange and red leaves does not exist here. Despite that naysayer called common sense, dreams of my imaginary autumn continue to clutter my mind -- dreams of myself warmly dressed in pert cabled sweaters or sporting intricately knit gloves or wrapped with cozy, colorful scarves…you get the idea…all the while surrounded by trees resplendent with fall foliage. Since in reality, the only thing fall is likely to bring around here is a spell of excessively warm weather entirely unsuited knitted wear, I indulged myself this weekend (while it is still chilly, foggy summer) in a spell of comfort autumnal knitting.

Fiery orange, substantive yarn. Certainly feels like autumn to me.


Ratcheting down to normality

…or at least some semblance of it. I saw I. off at the airport today and am slowly beginning the business of settling back into life-as-usual. It’s always a bit disconcerting to shift gears from a two-person household back to a home of one, especially after a long visit from I., so it’s going to take me a little bit of time to adjust. I meant to show off my secret pal goodies today but just couldn’t muster up the energy to take all the photos so instead, here’s the bit of rambling on my first quilting project that I threatened to blab about right before I left (since I had already taken all the photos…). My apologies to my secret pals for not showing off the goodies yet.
Ever since I set eyes on the beautiful quilts that populate the pages of Yarnstorm, Bemused, and Knitting Wench, I’ve been dying to try my hand at the craft. So, for months now, my fabric hoard has been steadily growing, along with my collection of quilting tools. But even after reading carefully through the detailed directions in Denyse Schmidt’s Quilts, I still found the whole process too daunting to do much of anything with my new fabrics. Fortunately, I came across a wonderful post at Be*mused, complete with craft-itch inducing photos, about the technique of English paper piecing. After looking here and here, not only did I have a way of easing into quilting, I also had, at long last, some practical use for those annoying subscription cards that seem to flutter out of every magazine by the dozens. The directions for the piecing technique looked simple enough on paper and, much to my surprise, actually were so in application. A little scotch tape and some whip-stitching produced neater hexagons than I had ever dared to hope for (straight lines and exact measurements are not exactly my friends). And really, when else do you ever get to use tape in sewing? This little pieced block took hardly any time at all.
Here’s the front of the hexagon flower block...

And here’s the back where you can see the subscription card templates that are keeping each hexagon in such crisp shape.

Once I had the pieced block, I cut some batting and muslin for the actual quilting bit. I basted the whole top to the batting and muslin before popping out each paper templates as I stitched over each hexagon. Soon, I had myself a little pin-cushion top. I stuffed the center black hexagon with some poly-fill instead of sewing it down like the rest for some extra pin-stickability.

For the lower half of the pincushion, I used a slightly larger piece of black flannel in the same shape so that the bottom would be a bit rounded rather than flat. Add stuffing and voila! I had my pincushion for the June/July pincushion challenge -- a funky hexagon flower. (You can see all the other wonderful flower pincushions for the challenge here.)

So, all in all, English paper piecing is really very fun and easy. I'm quite inspired now to play around with other geometrical shapes.


Unexpected Stash Enhancement

As promised, here is the haul from my trip. I swear that I departed on the trip with absolutely no intention of adding anything to my yarn or fabric stashes. You see, a recent cleaning of my apartment made it abundantly clear that I really, really had no more nooks and crannies into which I can stuff either materials. But, as we were winding our way along Highway 101 through the little town of Coos Bay, I spotted a sign along the road that said, "YARN," squeaked with excitement, and pointed. Dear I., well acquainted with my yarn obsession, dutifully pulled off the road and found our way to the parking lot. Surprisingly, the little store had an amazing stock of fibers, all of it spilling out from shelves lining the walls with additional packets overflowing from stuffed boxes. After a good half-hour of digging through skeins, I made my first stash enhancement of the trip there in that happy jumble of a shop: Lorna's Laces in Mixed Berry.

Yes, more hand-painted yarn. Not that I've yet found a suitable sock pattern (besides a plain one) that will not be overwhelmed by the variegated colors but these were calling out to me so in a vacation-souvenir daze, I bought them.

The next burst of consumerism happened when I. spotted and pointed out a quilt shop to me in Bandon (much to his regret later when I was lost in fabric matching for almost an hour). I finally left the shop with these, the greens with which I will be attempting a log-cabin pillow top with.

My last bit of shopping occurred in the lovely town of Ashland, home of the Shakespeare Festival and the absolutely amazing Web-sters yarn shop. Not only did they have oodles of yarn, they also carried weaving and spinning supplies. Sadly, my budget and time didn't allow me to consider either of those so I contented myself with the wall of Jamieson's Shetland wools, which I had never encountered before in person. I was absolutely blown away by array of wonderful heathered colors and before I knew it, I had this lot in my basket. These are all intended for future attempts at the intricate Scandinavian/Latvian mittens and gloves I have long admired. Two colored knitting with DPNs, here I come.

I also received some yummy yarns as a part of Secret Pal exchanges more on that next post.


Back from the North

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a digital camera must be susceptible to the frivolity afforded by such a camera. Despite the ease of taking any and all shots that strike my fancy, there definitely seems to be an inevitable exponential drop in number of pictures taken as one progresses into a vacation. I can count some two hundred pictures snapped on the first two days of our trip and only fifty-odd for all the remaining days. Still, it all makes for a whole lot of pictures. Here is a photo-serial of the trip highlights.
It wasn’t all just rocks and beaches.

There were also bogs filled with carnivorous plants, cobra lilies to be exact. The domed tops of each modified leaf is beautifully translucent so that light can filter through to further confuse trapped insects to prevent their escape.

There were many cave swallows adroitly flitting through meadows of grazing elk. Neither made for a good pictures: too fast on the part of the swallows and too far away on the part of the elks but the swallow nests were still and near and quite amazing looking. Most of the nests were empty but there was one that held two adorable (and loud) hatchlings squalling for food. I wish I could show them to you but the one photo I managed to take turned out with the little birds looking quite blurry with demonic red eyes.

There was a sea cave filled with snoozing Stellar’s sea lions...

... a marble cave with Byzantine calcium carbonate induced rock formations. (These particular ones are called draperies.)

...and a limestone cave chock full of more beautiful rock formations.

And wedged in between all that sightseeing, some knitting happened as well!

Speaking of knitting, there was also some rather unexpected stash enhancement. More on that tomorrow!